METZ – “II”

Grade: B-

Key Tracks: “Acetate” “Kicking a Can of Worms”

METZ named this album “II” because they knew it would serve as a sequel. They came out swinging on their self-titled debut album, and fell into the rarity of an instant classic punk release. Even in a crowded genre, the album defied genre. “METZ” was like a butcher, taking a typical post-punk album and rolling it into one long strand, making incisions every few inches. Their music is extremely metrical, in a way that punk and post-punk usually prides itself on going against. “II,” unfortunately, doesn’t quite keep the energy. But it is a proper sequel.

Sequels are difficult – how much do you acknowledge the original? On the spectrum of “Godfather Part II” to “Hangover Part II,” METZ here fall somewhere around “22 Jump Street,” or “Led Zeppelin 2,” in the acknowledgement that yes, it’s more of the same, but you liked it the first time. METZ have a formula to their music that’s distinctly their own, but they’re already deviating from it.

The worst moments of “II” are the ones where METZ sound like they’re retreading themselves. The band, surprisingly, suffers from the “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” struggle of recapturing a debut album’s sheer energy. The songs presented here are sometimes more forceful than others, and sometimes more well-mixed than others. “Acetate” and “Landfill” have energy to them, while “Spit You Out” and “Nervous System” could use a little boost. And while the balance between heavy instrumentation and vocals is usually balanced, on “Wait in Line” it is too heavily in favor of the music. The lyrics throughout edge on intelligible, but “Wait in Line” is the only track where they’re too muted.

Still, the band recognizes that they can’t completely recreate their first album, and they allow themselves some flourishes. There’s something close to a solo on “Spit You Out,” and there’s a tremolo bit on “Eyes Peeled” that could be mistaken for a solo. They break out of their own system a bit, more than they allowed themselves to do on “METZ.” The vocals on “The Swimmer” are more frantic than they were before. There’s signs that the band knows this is a brand that can’t keep going forever. And at the end of it, “II” still rocks pretty hard. They might not be able to keep this formula up for long, but it’s still working in their favor.

If you like this, try: There’s a hundred different ways I can go with this one, but I’ll keep it basic. One of the best of the year – Sleater-Kinney’s “No Cities to Love

-By Andrew McNally

Sleater-Kinney – “No Cities to Love”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Price Tag” “No Cities to Love” “Bury Our Friends”

Confession: This isn’t my first review of 2015. That belongs to Meghan Trainor’s “Title.” But do you know how cliche the metaphor is to start the year with a review of a debut? No, the first review of the year needs to be something more momentous – a comeback (and one that fits in well with my recent post on feminism in music, something Trainor does *not* fall under). So here, one of the biggest comebacks a blog like this could ask for – the first Sleater-Kinney album in 10 years.

Sleater-Kinney never really gave us a reason for their hiatus in 2006. It just seemed like they suddenly appeared, and suddenly disappeared. So, nine years after, it seems just as odd that they’d come back, especially given their successes – Janet Weiss has since played with the Shins, Wild Flag, Stephen Malkmus, and the densely uncrackable trio Drumgasm; Corin Tucker has found solo success; and Carrie Brownstein has found mainstream success as one-half of the largely improvised IFC show Portlandia (as well as Wild Flag). But 2015 needs Sleater-Kinney more than Sleater-Kinney needs 2015. We’ve caught up to their third-wave feminism; their leftist politics may have been “radical” for music in the 90’s (sad) but sound more anthemic today. There’s a revolution looming, and we’ve left Sleater-Kinney’s throne open for their welcome return.

Nearly needless to say, it’s an incredibly successful return. While Sleater-Kinney have never been a challenging band, their varying albums do rely on the listener to interpret the music, rather than the band. And for a band that’s woven through indie rock, riot grrrl and classic rock, “No Cities to Love” feels like a retrospective, that lets the listener reflect on which Sleater-Kinney exactly they’re listening to. Although “No Cities to Love” often sways sonically towards an indie S-K, it packs punk punches, and it’s brimming with energizing, political lyrics that are seemingly banned from indie otherwise. S-K’s political and social lyrics have never sounded fiercer, stronger, and Tucker’s vocals have a catchy scowl to them that entice the listener into their fury.

The album starts, by no coincidence, with “Price Tag.” The band sound like they’re restraining energy, not wanting to exhaust the listener from the get-go; but the lyrics about overspending on both political and personal levels rival the most ferocious and specific lyrics Against Me! or Sonic Youth could dream of. “A New Wave” matches the album’s catchiest, bounciest music with equally anthemic lyrics. “Surface Envy”‘s lyrics about making and breaking rules might sound a little tired, but S-K always have a way of putting out their own spin. And late-album highlight “Bury Your Friends” isn’t as political, but looks at the apathy of burying and reviving friends and idols (kind of like early songs by, well, Sonic Youth).

Musically, “No Cities to Love” leaps around. The title track is one of a few songs that’s outright catchy, with the band exploring its indie side. But “Surface Envy,” “No Anthems,” and “Fade” are all aided by a heavier, denser sound. Brownstein’s guitar is heavy throughout, reinforcing her importance and virtuosity in the guitar world. “Hey Darling” sounds like an indie track but has an unexpected heavy guitar, and “Surface Envy” has a dissonant chord running through its verses. “Bury Our Friends” even takes on a more mechanic tone at times, sounding more rehearsed and intentionally repeating than other tracks.

The Sleater-Kinney we get in 2015 is a mix of previous Sleater-Kinney’s, and it’s necessary blending. Indie and punk have come a long way in 10 years, and can go hand-in-hand now (whereas separated by sharp divides in 2005, unless you were Karen O or a member of Sleater-Kinney). “No Cities to Love” is rarely uneven, often totally complete, and serious in its beliefs. Comeback albums are tricky, but I don’t think there was much doubt that Sleater-Kinney could succeed in a world even more in need of political anthems. Leftist, catchy, angry and energetic, “No Cities to Love” is exactly what you want from a Sleater-Kinney album, just in the year 2015. Setting the bar high early, we’re 1-0 in great albums so far.

If you like this, try: Aside from rechecking your teen angst, rehanging posters you had in your bedroom in 1998, and remembering why you picked up a guitar in the first place, check out Potty Mouth’s 2013 debut, “Hell Bent.” Although more outwardly punk, Potty Mouth owe a lot to S-K’s feminist indie-punk sound.

-By Andrew McNally

(Okay. 1-1. Meghan Trainor review to be posted later.)